Ed Reilly - Home is where the work is

FD's global CEO is on a mission to turn the financial comms outfit into a worldwide force in issues management. Alec Mattinson reports.

Ed Reilly: on a mission to turn FD into a worldwide force in issues management
Ed Reilly: on a mission to turn FD into a worldwide force in issues management

FD's global CEO Ed Reilly acknowledges in a matter-of-fact-way: 'My wife reminded me recently that since I started my new job in January, I've been home for a total of five nights.'

Far from attempting to garner sympathy, he is merely outlining the scale of the job he has taken on.

Reilly, a polished 58-year-old New Englander with carefully combed hair and equally precise speech, took the top global role at FD after long-time CEO Charles Watson stepped down.

Having spent his career across the Atlantic, Reilly has found himself charged with pulling together FD's entire collection of operations across the world into a remodelled, integrated and coherent offering.

The agency is in the middle of an evolution, even changing its name to take the moniker of its parent management consulting firm FTI. At the core of this journey is the metamorphosis of a London-based financial comms specialist into a global issues management consultancy.

'Most of the client issues we face do not reside in one geography,' explains Reilly. 'With today's technologies and the global-isation of business, clients are demanding a seamless service across the world.'

Global reach is the key ethos that runs through the agency, with building operations in the expanding markets of Asia Pacific and Latin America to grow a fully integrated global service a priority.

Last week, three MDs quit the agency, with a well placed source blaming FD's loss of focus on UK financial and corporate comms (PRWeek, 17 June). But Reilly is convinced the strategy will pay dividends.

'Financial comms is becoming more broadly defined and there has been significant convergence between financial comms, public affairs and high-end corporate comms work,' he says. 'Flying under the flag of a well-known professional services firm in FTI will ultimately be hugely beneficial to us.'

Reilly is committed to solidifying the agency's global reach and, above all, approaching comms work from a management consulting position.

He maintains an energy that belies his long days and longer commutes - 'I'm based en route,' he jokes. But he seems actively to play down his past political experiences to concentrate on the present.

Reilly became involved in political organising and activism when studying philosophy at the University of Massachusetts and, via a stop with the Marine Corps during Vietnam, developed a career in government and then political comms.

His campaigning saw him get involved in various State and Presidential runs, including joining the inner circle of former Democrat Presidential nominee John Kerry.

US Senator for Massachusetts Kerry commented: 'Ed’s work is almost always done behind the scenes, without limelight or fanfare, which especially in Washington is an enormous asset. He serves the cause not the headlines.

'I’ve valued Ed’s perspective and counsel on a variety of issues because of his innate ability to see the playing field clearly, coupled with his understanding of the unique political and socioeconomic landscapes that shape the business environment from one area of the world to the next. In short, he gets it, whether it’s government or business or foreign policy.'

Lord Malloch-Brown, who recently joined Reilly at FTI as chairman of Europe, Middle East and Africa, worked with Reilly during the 1980s at pioneering international consulting firm Bozell Sawyer Miller Group. He describes him as a 'brilliant strategist and an operator who can get things done'.

Malloch-Brown says of their first contact: 'I drafted him in at short notice to work with me on an election in Chile, where a pollster we'd assigned got cold feet at Miami Airport about the possibility of getting his head blown off by General Pinochet.

'I called up my American colleagues and said find me a pollster who does stress conflict well, and they found Ed.

'If you're going to make your business in war zones and failed states, make sure your pollster is an ex-Marine.'

Senator Kerry, who served in Vietnam himself, notes Reilly is 'very much a Marine to this day'. He adds: 'He’s a drill sergeant who renders order out of chaos, but also knows how to motivate people. He earns the respect of his peers with a rare degree of intellect, passion and knowledge.'

Despite Reilly's lack of European roles, he nonetheless has a bulging contacts book that would be the envy of any City PRO. 'He's a gregarious marketing guy,' Malloch-Brown comments.

But Reilly is more strategic-thinker than uber-connector and has dedicated the majority of his career to the integration of politics, comms and professional services.

'The intersection of business and market issues with politics and public policy is a vital place for senior leadership teams of global companies,' he says.

Senator Kerry added: 'Ed is a terrific, creative, and savvy advisor for a lot of people in business and government and the area in between the two. He sees opportunities and realities that other people can’t grasp.'

Reilly sold his Westhill Partners business to FD in 2005 - 'I've spent most of my life as a small business guy' - but still retains a steely-eyed determination to change the culture of comms from within. 'It's what gets me up in the morning,' he says.

Talking about his time away from the job, Reilly discusses his devotion to the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots, and unwinding with his family, friends and the Pennsylvanian countryside.

'It's nice to be able to take things a bit slower sometimes,' he says. 'And to take a few moments to get down to the bottom of my briefcase too.'

And so speaks a man of determined focus. It always comes back to the job.

CV
2011 Global CEO, FD
2009 CEO Americas, FD
2008 President and COO, FD
2005 MD, Business consulting practice leader, FD
1998 Founder and CEO, Westhill Partners
1989 Vice-chairman, Bozell Sawyer Miller Group Worldwide
1985 CEO, KRC Research

ED REILLY'S TURNING POINTS

What was your biggest career break?

When renowned US pollster Ned Kennan, a brilliant innovator in the field of public opinion research, invited me to New York to run his business.

Have you had a notable mentor?

David Sawyer, the founder of the political consulting firm Sawyer Miller, who had a strong commitment to empowering and investing in young talent. He taught me that a substantial portion of a business leader's responsibilities should be to identify, recruit, retain and develop rising stars.

What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?

Don't lose focus on providing excellent client service. This is challenging, as you increasingly take on management responsibilities, but being a trusted senior counsellor is at the core of our business. It's important that every client, employee and referral source sees that as the hallmark of your leadership style.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

The ability to commit to something larger than themselves, and the ability to work well under pressure against tight deadlines.

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